City Council members received updates on plans for a Tax Increment Financing District and a new Capital Improvements Program, but said they aren’t quite ready to make any decisions yet.
The council had wanted an update on both proposals, each calculated to benefit the city with projects or programs that will include industrial development. While city voters will have the final say on the plan to extend the 2015 Sales Tax Extension and the 2016 Capital Improvements Program beyond their Dec. 31, 2025, expiration dates, the council is the final voice on a plan to create a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) project plan that would cover west Lawton industrial properties (current and new), as well as 70 acres of industrial land south of the runway at Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport.
A review committee has met twice on the TIF plan and is slated to meet Monday to decide on whether disbursement of new ad valorem revenue would be done under a plan that would designate 25 percent to entities that already receive ad valorem taxes from that property. The remaining 75 percent would go to an apportionment fund that will pay for infrastructure work needed for the industrial sites, as well as jobs training and incentives.
The original concept in the project plan had been 100 percent of that revenue designated to the apportionment fund. The revenue is the growth that results after a baseline assessment is made when the TIF is created. That first district (there could be up to 13 under the proposed plan) is expected to be Republic Paperboard, which had asked the City of Lawton to support a TIF to help with that firm’s $94 million modernization project.
Several council members said they supported the idea behind the TIF because it is the best way to ensure continued growth in Lawton, which, because it is the regional hub, would mean growth in Southwest Oklahoma. And, they don’t like the opposition that Cache Public Schools and Comanche County outlined before supporting the 25/75 split in new revenue.
Part of the council’s concern is discussion about how that 25 percent would be calculated: whether it would be given as a straight 25 percent, or adjusted after taking the state’s school funding formula into account. Without that state adjustment, the amount of ad valorem designated to Cache Public Schools (the west industrial park is in that district) would be much higher.
Ward 3 Councilman Caleb Davis was critical of what he and others said would be a 250 percent growth in ad valorem for that school district, calling it “a complete rip off for the City of Lawton.” He said his constituents already have complained about the city allowing Cache schools to be the beneficiary of “all that (industrial park) money, again.”
Davis said he supported the idea of designating 100 percent of the growth in ad valorem to the apportionment fund, but also suggested that Mayor Stan Booker (the city’s representative on the review committee) encourage a vote on the 75/25 percent split as well.
Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk said while he wants to be a team player, the City of Lawton is the entity gambling to entice industrial development.
“We’re putting our neck out,” he said, adding that “for me, I have to take care of the citizens of Lawton.”
Ward 5 Councilman Dwight Tanner said he also supports the 100 percent designation, noting the council already has been told by west industrial park tenants there are infrastructure upgrades that must be done to support existing industries and they can’t all be done through the city’s CIPs.
Ward 8 Councilman Randy Warren, noting he ran two years ago on a platform to bring jobs to Lawton, said a TIF is important to reach that goal.
“Without jobs, it doesn’t matter what else we do,” he said.
Without the infrastructure crucial to support industry — city officials have specifically cited a natural gas main that is nearing capacity — existing industries may not be able to expand, supporters say. Warren said while he doesn’t believe existing plants would relocate when Lawton couldn’t meet their infrastructure needs, “their expansion will go somewhere else.”
Ward 1 Councilwoman Mary Ann Hankins said Lawton’s growth will impact the entire region.
“It is important to grow, so others can, too,” she said.